Bringing design mojo back

There was a time, not so long ago, that house design was something exciting. Display villages proudly showed a whole variety of homes, each one having a strong identity about the companies they represented and the creative thought process that sat actively behind them. Being different was the competitive edge building companies had with each other and companies became known for a particular style they represented.

Sadly, these days, very few companies have a strong point of difference as their competitive edge has become more about squeezing as many rooms into a given space within a given price to show value for money. The result is homes that are formulaic. Their permutation of space becomes predictable as people are made to adapt to spaces that may or may not suit their lifestyle. Somehow, we feel validated that we are living in something that may have good resale value when we eventually sell because the real estate market dictates the elements required for this.

When broken down elementally, we have become conformists when it comes to one of the most critical assets in our lives - our homes. We have been watered down to living in homes that are pragmatic, but not necessarily contemporary and relevant, nor beneficial to our lives at that deeper level.

When we look at the mid-century ideology, it was evident that the family home was about design, first and foremost. Form followed function, but form was also interpreted by its creator - the designer, to undertake designing a home for families. More abstractly, that home represented the personalities of its occupants. Back then, homes did that. Homes provided practical and sensitive spaces. There were little details that were the garnish on top, the tiny snippets of a little design indulgence by way of an element that became a folly for the design professional.

Some years ago, when I was managing a well-known custom home builder, we were hit with a global financial crisis (GFC). The big dreams and ideas that many had about their potential new homes came crashing down, and fear prevailed.  I searched for a design opportunity that I felt gave a glimmer of hope and happiness to a market that seemed lost.

Fortunately, I had visited the United States earlier that year and made a trip to upstate New York where I spent a short time madly sketching in The Hamptons. I found the beautiful coastal homes there to be warm, textured and cosy. To me, they represented everything a family should be. Together, happy, stable and connected. I likened the beautiful style of this home to that of the perfect doll-house. The notional white picket fence, the white window trimmings, the horizontal plantation shutter blinds in the windows, weatherboard cladding, and beautiful, almost perfect proportions spoke powerfully to me about a style that I felt would do well in Perth. I felt despite the sadness and chaos that the GFC had brought, there was an opportunity to launch a style that consolidated the thoughts of the people and drew them to the beautiful warm style of the Hamptons ideology. As it turns out, the style became very popular, and now it's a palette that many want to incorporate into their lifestyles.

So where to next? My fear is we are losing our soul once again, and suburbia is starting to look a little mainstream, especially in greenfield estates where design guidelines are becoming too predictable. They do nothing but limit the sense of expression. The result is acres and acres of grey and beige houses with necessary light coloured rooves pitched at twenty-six degrees.

Homes are starting to lose their sense of identity and personality. However, are we? As humans, we see everything in colour, bright colour. It is part of who we are, and in many countries, colour becomes part of social existence.

We are such a multicultural society here in Western Australia. We have embraced change, we have incorporated diversity into our everyday lives by the clothes we wear, by the friends we keep, by the food we eat and by the countries we visit. Our homes need to reflect all of that, and that perhaps mirror the identity that we as Australians are still searching for.

My simple advice is to allow the creative back into your lives. It's enriching, purposeful and spiritual. Allow your homes to be as different as you are. That becomes part of the resale value of your home as it expresses a personality and a point of difference from the mainstream.

Reza Khan BArch(Hons) is a recognised designer with over 25 years' of building industry experience. During his career, he has built a reputation as a design innovator and thought-leader in home design and well-being.

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